designer to jeweller – part 3

Melissa finished up the three-parter about how she got to be where she is. Well, not the whole story, obviously. That starts waaaay back in 197…

In light of the exhibition First and Last beginning in Sydney yesterday, I thought it was a good time to finish up my little tale of ‘where did I come from – jewellist style”.

This is the tale of how I wended my way back to jewellery after a few years lost in the interior design wilderness. The first part was documented in the previous post Mr Daniels and the second in Quizzing Sarah.

In my final year of interior architecture, while visiting Melbourne as a research trip for my thesis (with my friend, The Bride) I stumbled on Bizarre Beads on Swanston St.  We went in, and it was love at first sight. I bought pliers, wire and beads, and when the wire and tiger tail didn’t do what I wanted, I started playing with beads and pins (yep, the common variety with sharp ends that you buy at Officeworks) in my spare time, and visiting local bead shops. This began in earnest a little after our immediate return to Perth, as at that stage I was rather occupied with writing up my final thesis document.

On graduating I went off and got a job in a design firm. I had some spare time (despite the rigorous hours demanded by the design profession, 9-7 was normal – funny though how much time stressing about uni takes up, versus stressing about the day-job), and a general surprise for what constituted creativity in the day job. I kept on making jewellery pieces for me to wear, or for my four sisters and even little brother, and because I enjoyed it. I came up with my own way of working, and as I worked each area of the body asked questions of my method and suggested new pieces and combinations. I was eager to engage with each new possibility that I saw on finishing a piece. I made more works for my friends, and then friends of friends, for brides and bridesmaids, and eventually with the encouragement of my family, pieces to sell at a market stall in Kalamunda.

As I progressed, given what I had learned of jewellery from the pieces I made in high school, I knew there was a much richer area of practice. At this stage I wasn’t aware that I wanted in on that action, but I was soon to wake up to the fact.

In early 2004 I woke up one morning and couldn’t convince myself to go to work. On seeing me in the bathroom in clearly a fragile mood, my partner, the ubiquitous TurboNerd, asked me if I was ok. I broke down crying. I tried to protest that I was fine, I would calm down in time, but he wasn’t buying it, and declared it ‘Melissa Day’ for which we would both take the day off.* Together we walked around our neighbourhood and he asked me what I would most like to do on Melissa Day. I said that I would like to go to the art gallery. We went, and saw and exhibition of Howard Taylor’s work.

I was (and probably remain) pretty naive, and so had never made the leap that people in galleries can come from places I have heard of, and even from my city. I knew it intellectually, and my parents had friends who were artists, but it did not resonate within me until I found out that the man that had marveled at that morning was not only Western Australian, but had lived in Kalamunda, the suburb where I was from. Little did I know that I was soon to find out more. On mentioning seeing the retrospective exhibition to my mother, keen to share what a revelation it had been, I found out that my Nan, the person I loved most in the world, was, for a period of a couple of years, driven by Mr Taylor from Kalamunda to her job at Belle Gladstone’s (sounds like a made-up name, but it was a hat store run by Belle herself) also in the city, when he was teaching there.

On seeing Taylor’s maquettes along the gallery wall, I realised that I wanted to be an artist, in fact I couldn’t not be an artist. He was an excellent craftsman, this came through in all his works, as well as a intensely driven. I only realise now that the balance in me deciding my career was tipped in favour of design because it lead to a clear-cut profession, and that was important because I was scared of uncertainty. Taylor’s works that day showed a real professional, and I was drawn to this clarity of vision as much as the works.

I went back to work the next day with a renewed vision, but one I quietly tucked next to my chest. I made an appointment to speak with Brenda Ridgewell at Curtin University and started looking for a new job.

In April I attended a mini-symposium of jewellers on a Saturday morning. Organised by FORM, it allowed the four jewellery artists who were making works for an upcoming show called Home Ground to speak to a small audience. Helen Britton, Sarah Elson, Bronwyn Goss and Carlier Makigawa were all on the one bill. Seeing their work while hearing them speak about jewellery was beyond inspirational. Almost another epiphany.

These were actual jewellery artists. They were doing what I had only started to sense was what I wanted to do. There was a pathway for me to follow, and right here was some of the best travelling that road.  They spoke so naturally and with such knowledge about what was, for the most part, still a new world to me. And their work was amazing.

I had haunted the jewellery cabinets at Craftwest (what is now known as Form) when it had been in the same building as the train station in the city, so I knew of contemporary jewellery, but little of the artistic richness nor any of its protagonists. But that day I recognised one of the panel. Sarah Elson (who had her small [second?] child slung across her for most of the day, a picture of maternal serenity) looked really familiar. And as part of her presentation she mentioned that she had taught art at high school for two years. In Lesmurdie.

I spoke with her briefly after the presentation, she had recognised me also, and I told her that I had an appointment with Brenda for the coming week. She pointed her out to me, and I nervously introduced myself, telling her I’d see her next week. I didn’t have the confidence to tell Carlier and Helen how much I had enjoyed their presentations, but the clarity by which I remember the day tells me the impact that it made.

Home ground it was for me and my career too. The significant fact for me was that all these amazing artists had all began their training in little old Perth. In fact, that knowledge is still important to me.

In May that year I started a new job that involved lots of travel, an awesome boss and a new and interesting team of people. If I had not already decided that my career laid in jewellery, I may never have, at least not while in that job. I was so much happier.

As always, timing is everything.

* I have long promised a ‘Turbo Day’ in return, but he has yet to take me up on that offer

cut it out

Melissa slices, she dices, all in the name of art. Collaborative art, no less…

there’s more group shenanigans afoot. with coasters.

(I just wanna be Joe Strummer, so I’d be able to say “with guitars!” No guitars here though.)

also opening Thursday…

Melissa’s work is going on show in Sydney. It includes the first piece she ever made. It’s 19 years old, and tiny…

So, you’re in Sydney, not in Melbs for the Hand Held show. Well, you might want to head over to Keeper gallery at gaffa to see First and Last, also opening this Thursday at 6pm – 8pm.

The indefatigable Zoe Brand is curating this little beauty, which shows the first and last pieces of 20 different artists. With the aid of some explanatory text, the show is designed to to see where each artists is coming from, and maybe chart where they’re headed.

My work is hot off the bench, a new laser-cut piece in titanium with blue silk thread. And the old bit? (This is sounding like a wedding, something old and new, borrowed and blue… The old piece is the loaner, since it’s keepsake of of my childhood.) Well, it’s a nineteen year old brass ring I made for myself in my first year of high school. We were taught Jewellery in school! (I know, how cool is that?)

The address? Keeper Gallery at Gaffa, 281 Clarence Street, Sydney. And hurry on down, it runs from July 29 til August 9.

busy this Thursday…?

Melissa’s works go on show at Hand Held Gallery in Melbourne in less than a week.

Opening on the 29th of July 6-8pm

snip, slice, saw
Hand Held Gallery

A group exhibition exploring cutting in paper and metal.

artist include:
Deborah Klien, Jennifer Bolhofner, Melissa Cameron, Deb McArdle, Lizzie Sampson, Christine Oakley, Kathy Fahey, Jake Burrell, Karah Sinden, Emma Grace, Tamara Dixon, Sarah Heyward, Anna Davern and Penny Peckham.

Hand Held Gallery is upstairs in Paramount Arcade, 108 Bourke St, Melbourne. See you at the opening!

too many brooches

Melissa works in patterns. Sometimes they linger, popping up again in other pieces. Infrequently they get retired. This one has served well, so it has been put out to pasture.

not enough chest…

The piece that completes the pattern. The bride was given this one too. As I worked on the first brooch, I slowly planned what to do with all the other pieces from the pattern. As I neared completion it didn’t seem right to share such a big part of the pattern with anyone else. The bride got the last work, and the pattern is now retired.

and the bride wore…

Melissa made some jewellery for a dear friend, The Bride. Married on the 17th of the 7th, 2010.


and then


and for him?

a pin (that moves).

There’s one more piece in this pattern, but that went to the bride too.

I’ll post it too, sometime. Tomorrow maybe, when I’ve finished acclimatising… (From a high of 31° yesterday in Singapore to the coldest Melbourne morning this year… Not at all sporting.)


Melissa shares photos of the first matching set of jewels she ever made. Awwww, how cute.

I made this matching set back when I was in high school. I have spoken of it before, as the bracelet and matching earrings were made in my year 10 jewellery class. The ring was made the year before, or maybe even before that… A fair while ago, anyway.

I designed and made the set with the skills I’d learned in two previous semesters of jewellery instruction. I thought I’d been really clever when I scraped out a little hollow in the soldering brick so that the twisted lengths would end up with the rings soldered in the middle of each end. But in other areas I see now I was a little less thorough.

The bracelet jump rings are unsoldered, and the one in the centre front of the image is slightly out of proportion to the others. Of the two holes drilled for the earring hooks, one could be considered almost in the centre…

These were dug up in the recent hunt for the first piece I ever made. Thankfully I found my first work too. (Phew! It only took about a week…) It’s going to Sydney for the First and Last show.